Last updated on September 13th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
For years men have been arguing which tool is better – electric shaver or razor.
On one end we have the electric shaver followers.
They’d argue that this does what a razor does without much of the fuss.
Men who use safety razors or even cartridges say that electric razors don’t shave as close.
Both sides have valid points for sure. But which tool is better?
What factors should you consider in choosing between the two?
Table of contents:
- Introduction to the electric shaver: brief history
- An introduction to the safety razor
- Electric shaver vs razor: cost of ownership
- Electric razors: pros and cons
- Safety razor: pros and cons
- Disposable/cartridge Razors: pros and cons
- To wrap up
Alarm clock rings loudly. There’s an important meeting at 10 am and you need a shave badly. Pressed for time, you apply shaving gel. And use a 5 blade razor to mow off the 5 day off stubble.
On the way to work, you feel that unmistakable stinging sensation of razor burn.
An electric razor won’t give you as much irritation but it won’t shave as close.
A safety razor would cut close minus the irritation but you’ll have to learn proper technique. And doing a proper 3-pass shave will take at least 10 minutes or so.
These are just some of the compromises that you need to make in choosing between an electric shaver and razor.
To better understand the functionality of an electric razor, let us go back in time and look at its history.
Before the electric razor there was the wind-up razor invented in 1906 by W.G. Shocky. It cuts off facial hair using a back and forth vibrating motion much like the Gillette Fusion razor.
This was the first mechanical device invented to shave. And it paved the way for the first electric shaver that was invented in 1927 by Jason Schick. Unlike the wind-up razor that needed shaving cream, Jason Schick came up with a device that does away with it.
As a member of the U.S. army, he hurt his ankle during a cold winter assignment and had trouble shaving with a bum foot.
First electric shaver
He had to crawl out of bed every morning to chip away and melt ice just to shave.
Thinking that there must be an easier way, Schick set out to invent the first dry electric shaver.
His design had oscillating blades what work much like a barber’s clipper.
While Schick laid the groundwork for the electric razor, Remington was the first to introduce the microscreen foil to cover the oscillating blades in 1937.
The rotary shaver was born.
Fast forward two years in 1939, Philips gave the shaving world’s first rotary shaver and then in 1966 the triple head rotary shaver.
In 1940s, the first battery powered electric shavers entered the market.
And 20 years later Remington took it a step further by introducing the first rechargeable battery-powered electric razor.
The rest of the story is history and electric shavers have grown to a multi-billion dollar business.
How does an electric shaver work?
Electric shavers have a motor that powers the blades.
What you’re paying for is convenience of not having to use a shaving cream and the ability to shave dry. But expect some stubble on your face afterwards.
There are two types of electric shavers – the foil and rotary.
A foil razor uses oscillating blades that move back and forth to cut facial hair. Since the blades move back and forth in a linear pattern, you’ll have to move it in a similar pattern to shave.
The second type is the foil shaver that uses a blade that moves in a circular motion like a grass cutter.
Another difference would be technique. Instead of using a back and forth motion, you’ll use a circular motion with a rotary.
You can learn more about the difference between these two in this article.
The safety razor is been here much longer than the electric razor. King Camp Gillette was the brains behind the invention of this shaving device.
Here’s the patent of Gillete’s invention…
Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that Gillette had safety razors before ditching them completely in favor of the cartridge and disposable.
Before men had access to this, the only tool available was the straight razor.
With apologies to the cartridge and disposable razor, the safety razor is the best pure compromise between the closeness of a straight razor and the quick shaving time of an electric razor.
What’s great about the safety razor is cheap cost of DE blades. Unlike cartridges that can cost over $10 for a 4 pack, DE blades costs just a fraction.
Safety razors can shave almost as close as a straight razor minus the inherent risks of raking an open blade on your face. Once you master proper technique, you’ll be able to shave close with much less irritation than a multi blade cartridge.
All things being equal, a good quality safety razor will last a lifetime while an electric razor will last for about 20 years.
That is if you buy good quality brands from reputable stores and take good care of it.
Disposable razors don’t last very long. After the blades dull up, it’s a throw away. Cartridge razors is more environmentally friendly because you just replace the cartridge.
A decent safety razor will cost around $30 more or less while a decent DE blade will cost 10 cents per piece.
Let’s say you change blades 3 times a week. In a 10 year period after the initial $30 investment for the safety razor you’ll only spend $156.
Even if you change the blade twice more, you’ll spend only $312 for that time frame. Add the safety razor to the cost and you’d still be spending less than $400.
That frees up a lot of cash to do other stuff or buy a better safety razor.
You can check this infographic to see the cost difference between a straight razor, safety razor, cartridge razor and disposable razor in a 70 year period.
On the other hand a good electric razor will cost around $200.
You will need to replace the shaver head every 18 months.
The replacement head of a Braun 9000 series will cost around $48. Total cost of ownership when you add up to $536 over a 10 year period.
And that does not include the cost of cleaning cartridges if you choosing something with a cleaning base like the Braun series.
Cartridge and disposable razors have the lowest cost of entry. A Gillette MACH 3 will cost around $8 and a 15 piece refill pack will cost $26.
I’ve written an article that compares the Gillette MACH 3 and Fusion. If you want to know more just click on the link.
Let’s say you replace a MACH 3 cartridge once a week, a 15 piece cartridge refill pack will last for a little over 3 months. Rounding that number off, you’ll buy a refill back every 4 months. You’ll spend wait for it, $810!!! And that’s for refills alone for 10 years.
I’m using real prices from Amazon. If you buy this retail, it may cost more so the numbers you see above are conservative.
- Quickest way to shave off stubble if you’re in a hurry
- A good travel companion if you experience irritation using a cartridge razor
- You can bring cordless variants just about anywhere and can shave dry without shaving cream
- Good brands usually come with trimmers that will help in trimming and sculpting trim the mustache, sideburn or beard
- Some models allow you to shave inside the shower
- No need to buy additional accessories like shaving brush and shaving cream
- Even the best rotary shavers will not shave as close as a safety or cartridge razor
- There will be a “transition period” where you’ll experience irritation
- Cost of electric shaver is quite high with very good variants costing upwards of $200
- Rechargeable shavers can “die” in while you’re shaving – not something you want if you’re in a hurry
- Can be annoyingly loud
- Will give you the closest shave of any of the other razors except for the straight razor
- The single blade design will not irritate the skin too much
- Safety razors have perhaps the highest quality and sharpest blades of any type of razor
- You have the option using different blades
- Low cost of ownership because DE blades are so cheap
- These razors are easy to clean
- Steeper learning curve versus an electric or cartridge razor – you’ll need to learn proper technique and expect a few nicks and cuts while during the process
- Will take longer to shave compared to an electric shaver or cartridge razor
- Not as readily available as a cartridge/disposable
- These razors have the shallowest learning curve
- You’ll find these in just about any convenience store and pharmacy so you don’t have to worry about supply
- Will shave closer than an electric shaver
- Great companion during business trips
- Shaves closer faster because it has more blades
- Low cost of entry but cost of replacement cartridges will add over time
- Takes longer to shave than an electric shaver but quicker than a safety razor
- Disposable razors don’t last very long – if the blade becomes dull you throw them away
- Using a cheap disposable or cartridge will cause irritation and razor burn
- Replacement cartridges are expensive
- Won’t shave as close as a safety razor
- The multi blade design can lead to irritation, razor burn and ingrown hair over the long term
- Blades will clog and dull faster – combine that with the expensive refills and cost will add up over time
Choosing between an electric shaver and razor will all boil down to personal preference and lifestyle.
For busy men who don’t have much shaving time then an electric razor is a great option. Men who don’t want to spend money on a quality electric shaver should go with either a safety razor or cartridge.
Cartridge razors don’t have as high a learning curve and will shave faster but costs of refills will quickly add up. Safety razors will require practice to master and will take more time but DE blades are cheap.
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Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.